Sorry, Amazon: These gorgeous libraries are here to stay

The world’s most beautiful libraries are monuments to knowledge.

It’s not every day that the internet agrees on something. But last week, it united to defend the humble local library after Forbes published an outrageous article proposing that cities should shut down all libraries and replace them with Amazon bookstores. (Forbes later deleted the post).


[Photo: Massimo Listri/Taschen]
It’s worth remembering what libraries provide to the public. Besides free books and free internet, libraries are hubs for community events, adult learning classes, and job training resources, among many other services.

Libraries are also symbols of knowledge–architectural monuments to learning. For evidence of that, look no further than Taschen’s new book on the work of photographer Massimo Listri, who has spent three decades documenting the world’s most beautiful libraries.

From the Czech Republic’s Strahovská Knihovna to the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbria, Portugal, Listri’s photographs highlight the architectural grandeur of many of Europe’s most significant libraries. There’s the Vatican Apostolic Library, with its decadent, mural-covered ceiling, the Trinity College Library in Dublin, which houses the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, and the Laurentian Library in Florence, which was designed by Michelangelo for the Medici family.

Strahovská Knihovna, Prague, Czech Republic. [Photo: Massimo Listri/Taschen]
Florence-based Listri has traveled around photographing libraries for the last 30 years. Many have the look of old Europe, with beautiful wood carvings and ornate, baroque details, all in rich, warm colors. Amongst the mahoganies and marble, the Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra in Portugal stands out for a simple reason–nearly everything is a dazzling white. It houses 36,000 books.

Listri’s photographs are a tribute to the fact that libraries have been hubs in our cities for centuries–and there’s real value in the services they offer. No impersonal, data-driven Amazon bookstore could ever come close.

Check out Listri’s stunning photographs in the slideshow above.


About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable